This summer we plan to highlight several of the participants in the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC). New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg is a 21CSC program operator. To view all Faces of the 21CSC stories, please click here.
Lydia Gallegos had never heard of New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg before dropping out of high school, but it seemed appealing to her once she learned about it. She could earn her diploma, get help finding a job, and get help getting her driver’s license – everything she was looking to do. Since joining the Corps, Lydia has also discovered that the Corps helped her with some of the challenges she faced in public high school.
Lydia explains that “One of the biggest problems I dealt with was my social anxiety. I had trouble dealing with crowds of people. When I came here I was surprised to find out classes are smaller. This was great for me- it wasn’t overwhelming. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve really gotten to know my fellow classmates and make friends. Also, the staff are great too. Everyone on the staff work so great together and just fit perfectly.”
In addition to earning her High School Equivalency (HSE) while at the Corps, Lydia has gained a significant amount of experience with different kinds of work. Over her time at the Corps, Lydia has helped mow grass, build trails, complete tasks at an organic farm, and has worked on aquatic restoration projects while putting her recently obtained “Waders in the Water” credential to use after participating in the two-day training in April earlier this year. Of all the things Lydia has done through the Corps, her favorite moment is pretty definitive. She notes “My favorite project that I worked on was the First Book sorting we did in conjunction with our sister NJYC program at Mercer County Community College in Trenton, NJ. It sounded so simple, you know? Sorting books to be distributed to children in need – it’s such a small act, but I feel that I helped make a huge difference in each child’s life that those books reached. It felt great to be a part of that!”
In June, she was among the Corpsmembers who were selected to travel to Washington DC to participate in The Corps Network’s Day of Service in the Nation’s Capital as part of Great Outdoors Month, as well as attend a White House briefing focused on the impact of Service and Conservation Corps. Lydia says that the experience was “amazing! Not only was I able to see our nation’s Capital, it was very satisfying to feel part of something larger. I enjoyed every moment of participating in that two-day event. The Day of Service was cool because I was able to be out in the open air, working to save a few trees from invasive English Ivy. It was a great feeling being part of something that makes a difference in the world.”
Once her term finishes at the Corps, Lydia plans to attend Warren County Community College where she will take classes focusing on fashion design. When asked how she would improve the Corps’ uniforms, Lydia said that she “would provide for a way for the uniforms to personalized and maybe even customized so that each Corpsmember would be able to uniquely express themselves. I think having a means to be able to express your personality is very important”, she added.
While Lydia will be leaving the Corps soon, she says that “All in all this program has offered me so much more than I could have asked for and it’s going to be sad leaving, but thanks to everyone here at NJ Youth Corps believing in me, I know I’m ready!”